What does the CEO of one of the leading social media monitoring companies in the world, Radian6, think of Social Business and Social CRM? What's in store for the future of this important company? I had the privilege of meeting with Marcel LeBrun, the CEO of Radian6, and in our time together we covered not only these questions but many more. The answers to which can all be found in this article. 

Jacob Morgan: There are many “social” terms floating around such as social CRM and social business, what are these “social” terms all about and why do they keep popping up?

Marcel LeBrun: The emergence of these terms is a reflection of a transformative force that "social" is having in multiple industries. For example, “digital music” transformed the music industry via new distribution and pricing models, but it’s still the music industry. In much the same way, "social" is changing almost every business function in enterprise, but those functions still exist.

Social CRM is the transformative force on customer relationship management and how brands manage those relationships. CRM is still CRM. “Social” is a timely topic today because it’s causing change. 

JM: What does the term “social” mean?

ML: When we use “social” in front of other words, we capture a technical and social change that is taking place. This change is part technology, but also, part behavior and culture change. The medium has a social effect, independent of the message, that is being delivered. The characteristics of the medium have a social effect. When you think about getting access to email or getting a particular email, which changed your life more? It’s the new medium that changes behavior, not the message.

In the era of mass media, people trusted institutions and thought they had their best interest at heart. Today that trust is gone, causing huge shifts. In this time, we see power and control shifts. The power shift is demonstrated by the single voice of one customer that can sometimes be as loud as the voice of a brand. The control shift is evident in that the medium is no longer controlled by one company because anyone can take control. Finally, we see a social transformation taking place. This is what we mean when we say “social.”

JM: What is your opinion on how consultants, vendors, and analysts should interact?

ML: Analysts help companies understand trends, best practices and changes taking place, new roles and new processes. The battle for ownership of words and definitions is interesting but it’s bigger than any one of us. What we call “it” really doesn’t matter in the greater change for business, what matters is the shift it’s causing and the way we need to adapt. "Social" is wide reaching. Vendors provide solutions and products based on meeting a certain need and consultants figure out how to build the strategies around those needs. Consultants figure out how to apply strategy and technology to a specific company for a specific challenge. Vendors make changes that customers tell them they should make. The analysts still have an important role but less of a final authority. Individuals can contend with large analyst firms, but these firms are still important because of the research they do.

JM: What is Radian6’s stance on social CRM?

ML: "Social" changes every business process in the enterprise. Social CRM is about how the organization best meets the goal of managing the relationship with the customer. First it’s a strategy, then it’s a process supported by technology. Every company needs to build a comprehensive listening and response mechanism. Traditional CRM is here to stay, nobody is going to rip out Oracle or Salesforce and replace it with something new. The integration of a listening platform with a CRM system, and a layer of business rules and workflow engine on top of it, is going to become crucial. A listening platform will also tie into other business systems and organizations such as PR, sales and business intelligence. Now you can develop a single view of the customer across all these systems and silos. The challenge is, “how do you get every employee close to the voice of the customer?” If you can do that, then you have transformed your business. By spreading “listening” throughout all business functions, it can be accomplished. Every employee needs to be tapped into the part of conversations that are relevant to them.

JM: How does the role of internal collaboration fit in with all of the social CRM stuff?

ML: There’s a certain recognition, because of Facebook, that people are changing how they interact with each other. Now the question is, does that apply to the work realm? There needs to be collaboration with a purpose. You need to collaborate to solve some sort of business problem. Collaboration around the voice of the customer is very powerful and brings a clear purpose for such collaboration. It brings the proper focus solving customer problems. The more acutely every employee feels the voice of customer, the greater things will be aligned with the goals of an organization. 

JM: How should budgets be allocated?

ML: Companies shouldn’t buy capabilities without the context of what they are trying to accomplish, they have to start with their goals. Based on their goals, companies can decide the optimal mix of technology and strategy. Strategy, processes and technology are all pain points. Sometimes you have to solve one pain point to realize what another pain point is. "Social" is also coming to the CIO level and soon the CIO will need to make budget decisions when it has integrated across the organization and has touched multiple business systems. This is at least a year out however. 

JM: What should people look for from Radian6 in the next 6 months to a year?

ML: Thus far we have focused on three areas, our listening platform, analysis dashboard and engagement console. The future is tying this together with leading enterprise systems that are currently in use. We want to allow organizations to integrate social into various business functions. At this point, the top 3 are:

  • Brand reputation
  • PR
  • Online customer service

We want to bring the voice of the customer to every role in enterprise, from the executives to the front line.